* * * * *
“We have been requested to announce that the marriage arranged between Viscount Merrivale and Miss Hilary St. Orme will not take place.”
Viscount Merrivale was eating his breakfast when he chanced upon this announcement. He was late that morning, and, contrary to custom, was skimming through the paper at the same time. But the paragraph brought both occupations to an abrupt standstill. He stared at the sheet for a few moments as if he thought it was bewitched. His brown face reddened, and he looked as if he were about to say something. Then he pushed the paper aside with a contemptuous movement and drank his coffee.
His servant, appearing in answer to the bell a few minutes later, looked at him with furtive curiosity. He had already seen the announcement, being in the habit of studying society items before placing the paper on the breakfast-table. But Merrivale’s clean-shaven face was free from perturbation, and the man was puzzled.
“Reynolds,” Merrivale said, “I shall go out of town this afternoon. Have the motor ready at four!”
“Very good, my lord.” Reynolds glanced at the table and noted with some satisfaction that his master had only eaten one egg.
“Yes, I have finished,” Merrivale said, taking up the paper. “If Mr. Culver calls, ask him to be good enough to wait for me. And—that’s all,” he ended abruptly as he reached the door.
“As cool as a cucumber!” murmured Reynolds, as he began to clear the table. “I shouldn’t wonder but what he stuck the notice in hisself.”
Merrivale, still with the morning paper in his hand, strolled easily down to his club and collected a few letters. He then sauntered into the smoking-room, where a knot of men, busily conversing in undertones, gave him awkward greeting.
Merrivale lighted a cigar and sat down deliberately to study his paper.
Nearly an hour later he rose, nodded to several members, who glanced up at him expectantly, and serenely took his departure.
A general buzz of discussion followed.
“He doesn’t look exactly heart-broken,” one man observed.
“Hearts grow tough in the West,” remarked another. “He has probably done the breaking-off himself. Jack Merrivale, late of California, isn’t the sort of chap to stand much trifling.”
A young man with quizzical eyes broke in with a laugh.
“Ask Mr. Cosmo Fletcher! He is really well up on that subject.”
“Also Mr. Richard Culver, apparently,” returned the first speaker.
Culver grinned and bowed.
“Certainly, sir,” he said. “But—luckily for himself—he has never qualified for a leathering from Jack Merrivale, late of California. I don’t believe myself that he did do the breaking-off. As they haven’t met more than a dozen times, it can’t have gone very deep with him. And, anyhow, I am certain the girl never cared twopence for anything except his title, the imp. She’s my cousin, you know, so I can call her what I like—always have.”